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New AFSCME state worker contract removes resignation window, but adds other problems

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Newly negotiated contracts with some 78,000 Commonwealth employees and their unions are slowly trickling in. In June, we reported on how a worker lawsuit against SEIU Local 668 prompted the union to drop the contract requirement that members resign only during a 15-day exit window. 

AFSCME Council 13’s 2019-2023 contract for rank-and-file employees was posted this week, and it looks like SEIU’s experience has prompted AFSCME to drop its “maintenance of membership” requirement as well. This is a major victory for the almost 27,000 workers covered by the union, not least because AFSCME is the largest of the government unions representing state employees.

Article 3 in the previous 2016-2019 agreement, which outlined the mere 15-day period when members could resign from AFSCME, is gone. In the new contract, Article 3 outlines membership and orientation procedures—that is, it guarantees the union access to new hires through meetings to distribute AFSCME materials.

More disturbing are some of the new elements regarding union membership added to Article 4 in the 2019-2023 contract. Thankfully, the provisions guaranteeing payroll deduction of now-illegal fair share fees have been eliminated. But whereas the old contract language merely stated that a worker’s authorization for union dues deductions must contain information such as his agency and social security number, the new language goes much further.

As the screenshot below shows, the new language violates the spirit of the Janus v. AFSCME decision in two ways. First, employee authorizations continue indefinitely until he or she opts out in writing from union membership. The Supreme Court decision, however, makes it clear that government agencies cannot assume a worker’s continuing voluntary association with their union. This distinction is so important that in August, the attorney general of Alaska issued an opinion saying that to fully comply with Janus, the state government should require employees to actively opt in to union membership every year, rather than rely on a one-time authorization. 

Article 4, AFSCME 2019-2023 contract for Pennsylvania state workers

Second, and equally troubling, is the baffling language in Article 4(c) of the new AFSCME contract that says the union “determines” when an employee’s union dues deductions should cease, and the union “shall be responsible for notifying the Employer.” Rather, as soon as a worker informs his or her employer that dues deductions should cease, there should be an instant end to payments. 

The union’s permission for a member to leave is certainly not required per the Janus decision. At worst, this contract provision is primed to create delays in an employee’s resignation, violating their First Amendment freedom of association.

Finally, the 2019-23 AFSCME contract also requires Commonwealth agencies to divulge a troubling array of employees’ personal information, as the table below shows.

So, what should state workers covered by AFSCME make of all these changes? It is certainly a victory that employees no longer have to comply with an exit window for resigning union membership. However, Free to Serve also encourages employees to be vigilant and cautious: 

In all, it’s clear that workers fighting for their rights is prompting the major unions to change their behavior for the better. But it remains important for workers to watch that AFSCME and other unions continue to comply with Janus. You’re not alone in that task—we’re here to help!

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